Fast Talk: Topic-jumping during mid-season reset
Here’s the latest edition of Fast Talk, a DirtonDirt.com feature appearing each Monday and sponsored by Out-Pace Racing Products. Staffers Michael Rigsby, Todd Turner and Joshua Joiner gather weekly for a roundtable discussion about who’s hot, who’s not and other issues regarding Dirt Late Model racing (edited for clarity and length):
Todd Turner: Has everybody caught their breath from the flurry of Fourth of July action? In reality there are special events nearly every day in July so let’s get right to it so we don’t fall further behind.
Rain plagued the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in Ohio last week, but we got a feel-good story out of it with 18-year-old Devin Moran winning at his grandfather’s Muskingum County Speedway near his hometown of Dresden. Devin has been on the radar for a few years and had some solid runs at Florida Speedweeks, but a national touring victory is a real shot in the arm for his confidence, don’t you think?
Michael Rigsby: It has to be. He's a driver that we have all kept an eye on the past two or three years wondering when that moment was going to happen for him, and clearly this past week it did. Just like Bobby Pierce, Billy Moyer Jr., etc., he carries a lot of baggage with the weight of his name as the son of Hall of Famer Donnie, so I'm sure he was glad to get that first big win out of the way and start focusing on the rest of his career. And how about the wild action at Musky that night? Wow it was hairy, but a lot of fun.
TT: Lots of action, for sure. And Doug Drown storming from the back to third.
Joshua Joiner: A national touring victory is a shot in the arm for any driver, let along an 18-year-old getting his first big win. Moran has definitely been on the radar recently, but his win at Muskingum definitely falls in the surprise category. He's a good driver through, so maybe he's showing us that it shouldn't been much of a surprise. We'll see if he has a few more big wins. He has plenty of opportunities between now and the end of the season.
TT: The World of Outlaws Late Model Series is in the middle of its Wild West Tour with one of its longest journeys of the season to the Badlands and back. So far Tim McCreadie (Superior) and Darrell Lanigan (Deer Creek) have notched victories, which is no surprise with Lanigan, McCreadie, Shane Clanton and points leader Josh Richards combining for 21 of 27 WoO victories so far this season. As a matter of fact, Eric Wells and Bub McCool are the only other series regulars to crack victory lane so far. Those four are making it tough on Rick Eckert, Tim Fuller, Clint Smith, Chub Frank and other series regulars looking to grab a checkered flag.
MR: When you look at the Outlaws right now, they really do have a pretty damn strong contingent at the top, and I think even Tim McCreadie will tell you ... he's good right now, but not quite where he wants to be. It's tough sledding for the rest of the guys on that tour, but I see Eckert closest to breaking through of any of them.
JJ: Those guys are really on top of their game right now and, like you said, Todd, making it hard on everyone else. It's great for the tour to see that many guys performing at a high level and competing for wins. In a perfect world, 10 to 12 series regulars would all be capable of winning on any given night, but we all know that's not a reality. For those guys to all be as equal as they are, and a few others regulars not far behind them, it really makes each WoO race interesting.
TT: Let’s spend a few minutes with our beloved UMP DIRTcar Summernationals, a tour we initially showed concern about after it stumbled out of the game. The series righted itself, as usual, in the Illinois heartland with several races with 40 or more cars. Let’s re-evaluate the tour.
While there’ve been some solid fields and the points chase is tightening up among four drivers, the average car count is down three from last season, and farthest-flung trips aren’t coming close to the Illinois car counts. And you could argue, perhaps, that some of the larger car counts have been enhanced by the relative lack of star power on the tour without Billy Moyer running frequently, without the suspended Jason Feger, and even without, for the most part, last year’s champ Brian Shirley. How to you guys reflect on some of our initial criticisms?
MR: I think it's fair to say that we jumped the gun somewhat. There's no denying that opening weekend lacked a certain pizzazz that we've come to expect on this tour, but being down only three cars on average is really good in today's racing age. Here's the bottom line, when the "dust settled" on seeing how the tour shaped up,we've got a really good points battle going on between four really good drivers in Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce, Ryan Unzicker and Shannon Babb, and if you had told me it was going to shake down that well at the beginning of the tour, I don't think I would have believed you.
The tour is going through a bit of a transition year, and I actually see a lot of hope here in the future. And I can say with a lot of certainty, any scheduling issues, or "off-the-beaten-path" trips they're taking this year will be reined in somewhat next year. overall it'll be a good tour, and yeah, I can admit it. We probably jumped the gun a little bit — and I know series director Sam Driggers will be happy to hear me say — we were probably wrong about it.
JJ: I think the tour has definitely shown some positive signs, but it is really rely on its Illinois base to get its numbers. Besides the Illinois tracks ruling in car counts, the series also lacks much geographical flavor among its regulars, with Illinois-based drivers filling the entire top 10 of the standings. I think the series is definitely still strong, but I don't think this year is quite as compelling as recent years. Maybe it's the extended schedule, or maybe something beyond tour's control.
TT: And let’s get our weekly points chatter out of the way. You guys have seemed certain that Brandon Sheppard, who has built his lead as high as 100 points, is the driver to beat, but not just one, but three, drivers have drawn closer in recent races.
Sheppard salvaged seventh- and fourth-place finishes in the past two races when it appeared he was in trouble, taking a provisional at Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Ill., and starting on the last row of a heat race at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. I’ve contended that his reaction to bumps in the road — and this stretch of races might be it — will tell us everything we need to know about whether Sheppard can put the points chase in his pocket before the Oakshade finale. A reminder: three-time champ Shannon Babb ended his most recent title in 2011 by winning the last six points races. How do you guys see the points chase?
MR: I don't feel as warm and fuzzy about my guaranteed Sheppard championship that I did a week ago, but I still think it's Brandon's title to lose. Let's not forget Brandon had virtually everything go wrong for him this past week mechanically, qualifying-wise, etc. — it was just a disaster. And after all of that, he's 55 points up. I see virtually no way he has that bad of a week again. On the other hand, those other guys smell blood in the water now. I do think this is going to come down to the final week.
JJ: Sheppard is still the obvious favorite, but he definitely has a lot more pressure going into the tour's final two weeks. He overcame his recent setbacks nicely, which is exactly what you have to do to win championships. But while his competitors struggled with consistency through the tour's first couple weeks, they all seem to be on top of their game right now, and one poor finish or DNF for Sheppard, and this thing could be wide open. Sheppard is still my pick to win it, but it definitely looks like it could come down to the wire.
TT: Let’s wrap up with a some potpourri here at mid-season. Answer one or all, or make up your own question. Favorite thing about the 2013 Dirt Late Model season so far? What driver who has underperformed so far will turn things around the rest of the season? Which points chase will be tightest: WoO, Lucas Oil or Summernationals?
MR: I'd say my favorite thing thus far is the true influx of young talent. Bobby Pierce, Devin Moran, Brandon Sheppard and more coming down the pipe. I just think it's encouraging to see that. It has to be Billy Moyer turning it around. Points chase? I'll go with the World of Outlaws — decided in Charlotte.
TT: My favorite thing? Bobby Pierce's emergence. Underperforming driver? Jimmy Owens, who leads the Lucas Oil Series points, but has underperformed the last several weeks and could rattle off a bunch of victories sooner or later. And the tightest points chase will be the Summernationals.
JJ: My favorite thing about this year is the lack of one or two dominant drivers. While the guys like Richards, Owens, Lanigan etc. are still doing their thing, it's nice to see other guys winning their share of races and keeping things interesting. I'm looking Don O'Neal to turn things around and have a great second half of the year.
We're lucky to have some really good points chases this year, but it's looking like the Summernationals title is the most hotly contested one right now with the top four so close. That being said, I have a feeling we'll all be paying close attention to the Lucas and WoO points standings come the end of the season.